Fast Food Shrimp Ranked Worst To Best

No longer is battered cod or flounder an exclusive indulgence reserved for fine wines and oceanfront views. From McDonald's Filet 'O Fish to Whataburger's Whatacatch, fast food chains have cast a wide net over the seafood spread, making the premium delicacy as accessible as burgers and fries. But more and more, drive-thrus have started to dip their toes into shellfish, specifically shrimp, for a quick bite on the go. 

Now, anyone with a passing familiarity for good seafood knows that the idea of fast food shrimp rocks the boat — for many, many reasons. It risks tasting gummy, squishy, or like nothing at all despite generous dunks of cocktail sauce. And assuming its fried? Those breaded curls can either wallow in sogginess or crack a tooth. Besides, it always seems a little off ordering seafood from a pick-up window rather than the sit-down spots where it belongs. 

That being said, shrimp is seeing its heyday in the takeout world, so we thought it useful to conduct a ranking of sorts. See which restaurants sink — or swim — in our round-up of fast food shrimp, listed here from the worst to the best. 

13. Church's Chicken: Butterfly Shrimp

Maybe it's unfair to single out a fried chicken joint for lackluster shrimp. Maybe. But when you see the nuggets of disappointment that are flying out of Church's Chicken, you'll understand why the Southern chain sinks to the bottom of our list. We should preface this by saying that the Butterfly Shrimp doesn't appear regularly on the menu, and that's because it's a temporary item for Lent. Even so, seasonality is no excuse for the deep-fried atrocities holding that honey-butter biscuit hostage. 

Let's begin with the serving size. In total, the poultry purveyor gives you eight pieces of shellfish for about $6. This wouldn't be an issue if the shrimps themselves weren't so paltry. Despite adding in the side entrees, the lean portion resembles a snack you'd pull out of your pocket rather than what should be a belly-bursting feast that'll stuff you to the gills. That's not even Church's Chicken's biggest offense. No, that honor goes to the blandness. At first we thought our taste buds were playing tricks on us or that our gustatory abilities had somehow been damaged, but that wasn't the case at all. Turns out the coating — and the shrimp, more importantly — contains zero flavor to speak of. And if you assumed dipping sauce could remedy the issue, think again. Don't — just don't. 

12. A&W: Pub Style Shrimp Basket

Here's another dud, this time out of A&W. We hate to bash on an all-American icon, but trust us when we say that the Pub Style Shrimp Basket goes belly-up — and hard. That's because, quite frankly, nothing stands out about them. These are garden variety breaded shrimp, probably out of a frozen bag courtesy of some wholesale distributor. The moment you open your basket, you'll be confronted by soggy bits of shellfish with a breading that struggles to cling onto any crunch. 

Once again, the size of the shrimp is also underwhelming. Although the chain has boasted larger shrimp within the last few years, the current version doesn't appear to differ much from promotions past. That is, the heft we'd expect from a round of deep-fried prawns is largely absent. Forgive us for being redundant, but really, these shrimps are, well, shrimpy. 

For anybody craving crispy, plump shrimp that snap upon first bite, pass on A&W. Your air fryer at home could probably put the restaurant to shame, so at least you wouldn't waste gas — or your hard-earned cash. Most of us go here for a Papa Burger and Root Beer Float anyway, so really, what are we missing out on?

11. Popeyes: Popcorn Shrimp

One of Popeyes' few seafood options, the 1/4 Pound Popcorn Shrimp Meal combines a side dish and biscuit with, you guessed it, a quarter-pound scoop of popcorn shrimp. It's not shocking that the Louisiana franchise would dabble in seafood, as Creole cuisine wouldn't exist without it. All the same, we were let down by Popeyes' version. Accepting that popcorn shrimp is supposed to be bite-sized, the Cajun chain takes that as an excuse to overload on the coating, and,                                     by that token, skimp out on the most important part of the entrée: the meat. 

To be sure, there's a lot of breading in every bite, including a generous helping of seasoning that's become the chicken chain's signature. The fact that you're not sinking your teeth into bland husks of bread crumbs like at other places is a plus, and that definitely comes in handy if the drive-thru forgets your cocktail sauce. But after diving into a bucket of them, there's only question we're left with: Where's the shrimp? There's no doubting the gloriously juicy chicken you get from a well-fried drumstick or tender. With the popcorn shrimp, our taste buds were calling out for any hint of protein. Don't bother. 

10. Panda Express: Honey Walnut Shrimp

Panda Express is Americanized Chinese food, so in theory we should be thrilled by the Honey Walnut Shrimp. How can you go wrong with big, battered prawns steeped in a sweet glaze? Panda's shrimps are much more substantial; we'll admit it. However, any crunch you'd get from the coating is totally wiped out by the honey sauce. It's a given that many people enjoy the sticky consistency, but in this case, the shrimp soaks it all up, turning every bite into a stodgy, spongy mass. 

Not only is there better shrimp out there, but also the Honey Walnut Shrimp isn't even the best thing at Panda Express (that privilege belongs to the Orange Chicken). While we acknowledge that the dish has fans, the flavor is just too much. Too much sugar, combined with too much sauce, is a recipe for treacle city. 

To set things back further, the seafood entrée costs extra. Don't get us wrong; we're not opposed to paying more for a special dish. What we are opposed to, though, is syrup-logged shellfish that, honestly, you don't get that much of to begin with. If you must have fast food shrimp, take a look elsewhere.

9. Pei Wei: Kung Pao Shrimp

Slinging Chinese takeout that's about as authentic as Panda Express is Pei Wei, and one of its specialties is Kung Pao Shrimp. Props for the inventiveness — it's not common to see the tongue-searing flavors of chili and crushed-up peanuts with meat other than chicken. But is it any good? That's the burning question. On its own, the shrimp is palatable. You might be tempted by the glistening sauce cascading over the curled morsels in your rice bowl, but divorced from that, the texture leaves a lot to be desired. We find these inconsistencies are a matter of the location. Maybe you'll get a tasty portion at one restaurant, but at another you could be served a heap of squishy, overdone shellfish. 

Could this be said of most fast food places that exist across the country? Sure. There's hundreds of Pei Weis currently open, so enforcing quality control isn't always possible. We do like that it's somewhat unique and full of spice (and lots of it apparently). Yet in terms of good seafood, this simply misses the mark for us. Onward and outward! 

8. Del Taco: Original Crispy Jumbo Shrimp Taco

The verdict on Del Taco's shrimp? Not bad, actually. Being a Mexican chain mostly located on the West Coast gave us some hope that we wouldn't stare down the barrel of crusty, overdone cocktail chunks, and for the most part, our assumptions were spot-on. We wouldn't go as far as calling them spectacular, but in a sea of relatively few choices on the fast food market? Let's give credit where credit is due. 

It's true that there are multiple ways to eat shrimp at the Mexican franchise. But to truly judge it, we went with the most basic of options, the Original Crispy Jumbo Shrimp Taco. First off, these are decent-sized shrimps. The crispy batter pairs well with the refreshing condiments, and the shrimp appear somewhat seasoned on the outside. When they are tucked into the flour tortilla, the ratio of seafood to toppings seems balanced, letting the shellfish take center stage while benefiting off of the tasty fixings too.

Our hypothetical bone to pick with this fried shrimp is the seasonal availability. You can get superior seafood choices at other drive-thru spots all year long. Overall though, there's nothing to complain about here. 

7. Long John Silver's: Popcorn Shrimp Basket

"Underrated" is a term fans of Long John Silver's often use to describe the seafood chain's battered wares, and that includes the Popcorn Shrimp Basket. Advertised at just $6 with sides like hush puppies and rice, this basket has a boatload of food for an undeniable bargain. We're just going to say it — these are better than Popeyes. The shellfish reins in a heftier bite, with a crunch that's far from the puffs of deep-fried panko that dissolve on your tongue like cotton candy.

Although the Louisiana chain has the Cajun kick to lure in your taste buds, Long John Silver's has shrimp that is infinitely more meaty. Additionally, the shrimp manage to stay taut and crispy despite the amount of grease. For a deep-fried beast feast, this meal is not going to require a mountain of napkins to clean yourself off with. Nobody likes soggy shrimp clumps at the bottom of the bag, and at Long John Silver's, you don't have to worry about that. 

The reason Long John Silver's isn't higher on our list? Drive-thru shrimp needs to deliver a heck of a lot more than noticeable crunch to qualify for the big leagues. It's definitely decent, but as our list shows, it's possible to hold out for something even better. 

6. Culver's: Butterfly Jumbo Shrimp Basket

Consider us pleasantly surprised. Culver's, the prime custodian of frozen custard, took a stab at the fish fry without totally dropping the ball. In addition to getting the infamous Butter Burger and crinkle fries, customers can reel in nautical selections such as the Butterfly Jumbo Shrimp Basket. These prawns are deafeningly crunchy, thanks to the pebbled shell of fried panko bread crumbs, and they're shockingly hefty to hold. A six-piece meal might not seem like much, but watch your tummy rumbles cease once you gobble them down with a bed of tangy coleslaw. Doesn't it look like it came from a legit seafood restaurant? Just look at that lemon wedge! 

Obviously, Culver's shrimp are not perfect. The coating is on the plainer side, which might be okay, granted the side of cocktail sauce you get. And unless you purchase the meal, it's going to be pricier than fast food joints of a similar tier. But Culver's has always outdone itself with excellent quality, and while you might hesitate to give up your regular order in favor of the shellfish, do give it a whirl if shrimp is your forte. It's definitely fast food good, but it's also good, period. 

5. Qdoba: Citrus Lime Shrimp

Now we're talking. The Citrus Lime Shrimp — grilled, not breaded — exploded in popularity when Qdoba first debuted the dish in 2022, and it's not hard to see why. It's a killer combination, particularly coming from the Mexican chain's well-established record of cooking things fresh. Prawns, particularly seared ones, have a knack for turning into rubber if left sizzling too long in the pan, but these ones stay firm and juicy even when suspended in the light sauce.  

We will point out that the Citrus Lime Shrimp, while bountifully flavorful, possesses an obviously strong tang. It's also a little over-hyped, as evidenced by Reddit commenters who've tried the shrimp for themselves, but still — it's not often zesty, citrusy shrimp enters the fast-casual ring. The menu offers plenty of inspiration for enjoying it stuffed in tortillas or on beds of rice. We wager you have your regular order on lock when hitting Qdoba up for lunch, but if you'd like to experiment, a Citrus Lime Shrimp Burrito loaded with rice, black beans, pico de gallo, and fluffy cotija cheese really highlights these plump pinwheels of shellfish. Netting this pick is sadly rare, since the franchise only rolls out its Citrus Lime Shrimp periodically. 

4. Captain D's: Crispy Butterfly Shrimp

With a name like Captain D's, deep-fried prawns are pretty much a guarantee among the seafood chain's menu lineup. They pop up in variety platters alongside crab cakes and chicken, but also take the spotlight individually. Regardless of how you order the Crispy Butterfly Shrimp, one thing's for sure: You'll be happy to find them on your plate. For starters, they're encased in an exceptionally crunchy shell, and the mouthfuls of shellfish are tender and firm without drying up in the fryer. Feasting heartily won't be a problem in the slightest either because every batch arrives with multiple sides — hush puppies, coleslaw, the works. 

Now, what justifies the higher ranking of Captain D's Butterfly Shrimp exactly? That would be the attractive value. Each basket is anchored with heaps of grub between the main course and all the extras, but even if you can't finish it all on your own, the deal remains worthwhile. An order comes with over a dozen shrimp — 15 to be exact. One customer boasted about paying $5 for the shrimp dinner just a few years ago, and since then the price has stayed consistently affordable. 

3. White Castle: Sriracha Shrimp Nibblers

We've already seen burger joints tackle deep-fried shrimp, but there's one chain that threatens to sail away with the entire competition: White Castle. That's right, the home of hole-punched beef patties slings something pretty special in the seafood department, and they're called Shrimp Nibblers. Once in a blue moon these heavenly mouthfuls appear during Lent, and we crave their crispiness year-round.  

Now, the regular Shrimp Nibblers are already considered fan favorites at White Castle, so where does that put the sriracha version? In our view, the spiced-up version breathes new life into a classic. Besides the same irresistible crunch, the chili-flecked heat of the coating plays off the shellfish flavor nicely. Don't worry about lighting your tongue on fire because the spice is manageable and absolutely delectable. On the contrary, you'll feel compelled to empty out a whole bag while wishing you'd ordered seconds — they're that easy to eat. 

The word "nibbler" insinuates something you snack on, but we appreciate how they come in various sizes. A small is ideal for on-the-go grazing, but a sack — yes, a literal sack — tides over the hungriest of hunger pangs. For that, it's a slam-dunk fast food option. 

2. Swensons: Shrimp Dinner

Swensons' Shrimp Dinner offers battered butterfly shrimp (tails on) followed by more starch — a bread roll and french fries — with a tangy cocktail sauce for dunking at under $7. The regional drive-in obviously prioritizes bang for your buck. And yet, the low price isn't even the best thing about it. The shrimp resembles fresh-fried selections you'd order from a beachfront grill — crunchy, evenly coated, and thereby suited for the tangy dip that ups the flavor ante astronomically. Tasty, authentic, and out of a drive-thru (or in this case, a drive-in)? Say no more!

Of course, the food is enough for a high ranking. But what separates Swensons from the rest is how nicely the eatery packs your food up. Although the Shrimp Dinner is stored in a paper box, all of the items are bagged individually. That way, you can enjoy the breaded shrimp exactly as it should be enjoyed — crispy and steamy, without dissolving into a pool of its own grease and being overpowered by the rest of the meal. Our only reservations about the Shrimp Dinner involve its potential overshadowing by the infamous Galley Boy Burger, but that's not a problem here. The shrimp stands loud and proud on its own. 

1. Baja Fresh: Fire-Grilled Shrimp

Finally, the moment we've all been waiting for: the best fast food shrimp. What is it? We looked at a lot of chains slinging shellfish on the cheap — good ones, even great ones — and none of them, and we mean none of them, could top Baja Fresh. The Fire-Grilled Shrimp just blows every other fast food shrimp we've ever eaten out of the water. Gummy, frost-bitten seafood isn't a thing here, and that's likely because the Mexican franchise claims to make everything, well, fresh by rejecting canned and frozen ingredients. No joke, you're not going to find quality like this anywhere else. 

It's telling that decent-ish shrimp makes the rounds for Lent or summertime at other fast-casual joints, but luckily for us, Baja keeps it on the menu full-time. Seared to perfection and seasoned with a light hand, this shrimp packs a wollop of flavor in virtually any dish. Because the restaurant lets you build your own meal, there are endless possibilities for enjoying them, and that's what makes them so perfect. These grilled medallions would work wonders in a Chili Lime Salad, in a burrito, or on a crunchy tostada shell with all the sour cream and salsas you could want.